Motivations: Getting Below the Surface

Look Underneath

Look Underneath

Looking Underneath

Have you ever been in a situation like this: you’re in a heated conversation with someone, and it is just the two of you in a room. In the middle of the argument, your cell phone rings or someone else enters the room—and in an instant, you change from being agitated and angry to being calm and sensitive!

Why are we able to change so quickly when there’s an audience? The answer to that question reveals something critical to the change process.

Roots, Shoots, and Engines

In the previous blog, we discussed how the warning light on the dashboard of a car is like our responses to life’s circumstances: it shows us that something is wrong. In this chapter, we want to get under the hood and see the engine that is driving the behavior. We want to find out why we are responding in a specific way.

What’s Under the Hood?

Why is all this is so important? Imagine again that you are driving down the road and you notice that the temperature gauge on your dashboard is running high. You know this is not good. So you stop at a mechanic, and he assures you that he can fix the problem. He proceeds to break the glass over the gauge, move the needle back to where it should be, and then tape it down to stop it from moving anymore.

You would probably think that the mechanic was out of his mind. The gauge is not the problem—the problem is under the hood in the engine! A good mechanic would diagnose what was causing the engine to run hot by a process of elimination—is it a bad water-pump, a broken belt, a hole in the radiator, low oil, a busted hose, or something else? The mechanic would need to get under the hood and diagnose the problem in order to fix the issue. Only then would the temperature gauge return to its normal and appropriate level.

The same can be said of humans and their behavior. If you see good or bad behavior (like the gauge) it is revealing what is going on in that person’s heart (under the hood). Proper diagnosis can then lead to proper treatment of the problem.

One note of caution

It takes a professional to diagnose what is wrong with a car engine, and even then it is not always easy. And people are much more complex than car engines. Therefore, it is important to move carefully and wisely when asking the “why?” and “what?” questions. You want to avoid becoming simplistic when assessing motivational drives in yourself or others. You certainly don’t want to assume that you have such clear discernment that you have the right to go on a sin hunt in someone else’s life. There could be devastating consequences if you are not careful, wise and loving in how you help others grow in self-awareness. And when it comes to diagnosing your own heart, do ask for help if you need it from a pastor, counselor or mature Christian friend. This is not a sign of weakness but of strength!

The Tools of the Trade

So how do we begin the process of diagnosis? How do we begin to determine why we respond in unproductive and ungodly ways to our circumstances?

Like a mechanic, we need the right tools. In the moments when you choose the left fork at the junction, these are the questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Why did I do what I did?

  2. What did I want in the moment that I was not getting?

  3. What did I not want in the moment that I was getting?

These three simple questions will open a window into what you tend to live for and what drives your responses to your circumstances.

In chapter 6 of Unstuck: A Nine-Step Journey to Change that Lasts, you can find further help for applying this in your own life. Examples include anxiety, anger and addiction.


Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.